The town of Hawkesbury has approved its 2019 budget.

Council unanimously passed the 2019 estimates into law on Monday evening, January 14.

The $27.7-million budget includes $15.4 million in operating costs and $6.4 million for capital projects.

The town will be collecting a bit more from property owners in 2019.

After two years of zero tax levy increases, this year’s budget includes a 1.95 per cent tax increase.

According to Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Gatien, that will mean a 4.05 per cent increase in the town’s revenues in 2019.

The “average” property in Hawkesbury is valued at $160,021 and 2018 taxes for a property of that value were $1,668.90 in 2018.  Property taxes for those “average” properties will be $1,721.74, or $52.84 more in 2019.

The biggest budgetary pressures Hawkesbury faces are increases to employee salaries and benefits, higher payments on the long-term municipal debt, increases in the amount of money transferred to capital reserves, and higher policing costs.

Major transportation capital projects in 2019 include the reconstruction of Cameron Street, replacement or refurbishment of public works vehicles, and changes to pedestrian crossings, traffic lanes, and lane markings.

It was sidewalks, though, that got councillors talking.

The budget includes $100,000 set aside for sidewalk and curb replacement.

Councillor Robert Lefebvre said sidewalks should not be forgotten because it is important to maintain them in order to avoid accidents.

“I believe sidewalks are something we should invest in,” agreed councillor Antonios Tsourounakis.

He said good sidewalks are a matter of ensuring safety, showing pride in the town, and giving a good impression to visitors and potential investors.

Mayor Paula Assaly asked about the capital budget for improvements to a wall of Maison de l’île, home of Le Chenail Cultural Centre.  There is $165,000 in the 2019 budget and she said federal grant money was likely going to be available based on a conversation she had with Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MP Francis Drouin.

The budget changed very little during the development process, which began on November 13.

Assaly was extremely pleased with having the budget process taken care of so quickly, and so early in the year.

She noted that Hawkesbury is the first municipality in Prescott-Russell to do so, and that having a rapid, early budget was something she promised to voters during the 2018 election campaign.

“I’m really, really proud of my staff,” said Assaly.

The mayor said having the budget approved early makes it easier for staff to embark on projects for the year ahead and make decisions that depend on the budget being authorized.

She described the levy increase as “minimal.”

She also said it allows the tendering process for capital projects to start faster which means the town could end up paying less for them than if the process were delayed by a couple of months.

Hawkesbury treasurer Philippe Timbers, centre, explaining the budget to council. At his right is clerk Christine Groulx, at his left is Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Gatien.